The Right Reverend Charles Lee Burgreen (1978 – 1989)
III Bishop Suffragan for the Armed Forces
Charles Burgreen was consecrated by The Most Reverend John M. Allin, XXIII Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church, on 27 February 1978, in the Cathedral of the Incarnation in the Diocese of Long Island. Although his Consecration was beautiful, it was momentarily interrupted, as was expected. According to Episcopal News Service/Episcopal Church Archives:
“At the point in the service when the Presiding Bishop asked if there were objections to the proceeding, the Rev. Nathaniel W. Pierce, Grace Church, Nampa, Idaho, and Mr. Henry Morrison of Oregon, representing the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, came forward to read a statement. Fr. Pierce said that the office relating to military personnel ‘is a scandal to our Church and wicked by its very nature.’ He said that while the Fellowship believes in ‘the importance of pastoral care to Armed Forces personnel,’ that which was challenged ‘as being inconsistent with the Gospel, is the form this ministry has taken…Bishop Allin expressed his appreciation to Fr. Pierce for his witness and spoke of his conviction that the Suffragan Bishop for the Armed Forces is a vital ‘ministry to dispersed people…”
This was now the second time Christian Pacifists in the Church strenuously objected to the idea of an Armed Forces Bishop.
Prior to becoming Bishop Hobgood’s Executive Assistant, Chaplain Burgreen had served in the US Army, retiring in the rank of Colonel. Apart from his military achievements, Bishop Burgreen was beloved for the way he had with people. He knew all his sheep by name. His episcopal legacy continues long after his death. A gifted musician, he had grown up accompanying his father, the Reverend Alsace Lorraine Burgreen, on his Methodist “circuit rider” ministries. Bishop Burgreen was also Bishop of Micronesia, on behalf of the Presiding Bishop.
Bishop Burgreen was strongly connected to the US Military Academy at West Point; so much so that his memorable retirement ceremony took place there.
For Bishop Burgreen and his wife, Helen, this was a shared ministry from which we all benefited.
The Bishop’s dedicated Executive Assistant was Chaplain, Commander, US Navy (Reserve) Donald C. Beers, a distinguished Chaplain in his own right, who served this Episcopate long and well. Alongside Chaplain Beers was a wonderful person, dedicated to Bishop Burgreen, Mrs. Pauline Soley. Pauline was a long-time “815” (Headquarters of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society) employee who ministered to the Chaplains.
In this Bishop’s time, our military “footprint” in Europe and the Pacific was much larger than it is now. Thus, Bishop Burgreen increased the number of Episcopalian “Military and Family” Conferences held around the world. They were his primary tool for pastoral ministry. The most 5 popular of these conferences was the one in the General Walker Hotel (formerly Adolph Hitler’s Bavarian “Eagles’ Nest” castle, Berchtesgaden, West Germany.) There he played “a mean honky-tonk piano” and ended each evening with Compline and his own special rendition of the composer Barnby’s “Nunc Dimittis:”
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people. To be a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost: As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”
Saint John Paul II was famous for saying he wanted the faithful Christians to see his suffering and death because they were graphic illustrations of how a Christian should accept these chapters in our earthly life in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life. In like manner, Bishop Burgreen praised God in his suffering; refused heroic measures, and died a holy death – a fitting end, I should say, to a Christian who was so full of life.
Anecdote: From Bishop Wright: Bishop Burgreen will always hold an honored place in my heart. I never shall forget our first meeting. I was a 19-year old Airman Basic, stationed in remotest Turkey, away from home for the first time and profoundly lonely when Bishop Burgreen showed-up just to see little old me. That was the beginning of a twenty-something year friendship that lasted through my Baptism in the Jordon River; my Confirmation in Berchtesgaden, Germany; my postulancy spent serving AIDS patients in the Diocese of Los Angeles; my time at Virginia Theology Seminary; my ordination at historic Emmanuel Parish, Cumberland, Maryland; my Parish, St. Mark’s in Charleston, SC’ and my return to active duty as an Air Force chaplain. Bishop Burgreen was quite a mentor. I recall thinking at that time, “if I were an Episcopal Bishop, I would want to be just like him!”